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Beit Midrash Shabbat and Holidays The Seven Weeks of Condolence

The Seven Prophecies of Comfort

On each of the seven Sabbaths following Tisha B'Av and leading to Rosh HaShanah we read prophecies of comfort. Yet, what is the purpose of such consolation if the Holy Temple is still absent and the people of Israel continue to suffer great affliction?
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1. Continuous Consolation
2. Renewing the Relationship
3. "Let us go together and comfort her"
4. The King Has Returned

Continuous Consolation
The seven Sabbaths after Tisha B'Av which take us up to Rosh HaShanah are known as Sheva D'Nechamata (the "Seven of Consolation") because on each of these Sabbaths the Haftorah reading contains a prophecy of comfort. Yet, what is the purpose of such consolation if the Holy Temple is still absent and the Jewish people continue to suffer great affliction? How is that we continue to cling to the rabbinic decree, reading the words of the Prophet Isaiah, "Comfort my people, comfort them!" and being consoled?

Rabbi Yisrael HaMaggid MiKoznitz, in his work Avodat Israel, explains the significance of these seven weeks. He writes that they can be likened to a process of reconstruction, a reconstruction of the Kingdom of the Divine Presence after its "destruction" due to the Temple's demise. This finds expression in the arrival of the New Year, Rosh HaShanah, at the end of this period. According to this approach, we can say that an additional layer of the future Temple is being built each year. In this sense we are consoled, for from this period onward begins a renewed process of the beginning of the redemption.

Renewing the Relationship
However, it would appear that it is possible to provide an even deeper understanding of the consolation, one which derives from a close look at the prophecies of consolation themselves. These prophecies display God's love for His people, a love which draws us near to Him with chains of affection to the point where we acquire a new understanding of all which has befallen to us. We realize that these are afflictions of love - as a father punishes his son, so does God punish us. And God regrets having afflicted us, as evidenced from the said prophecies, and this amounts to a kind of reconciliation between the sides - the Jewish people and the Almighty.

This may be compared to a husband and wife who, after experiencing a marriage crisis, manage to return to and even exceed their original state of affection. Similarly, the Jewish people regain a feeling of love for God during these days, and the feeling is mutual. This relationship is hinted at in the Hebrew letters of the month ELUL which, as initials, represent the verse, "I am (=E) my beloved’s (=L) , and my beloved (=U) is mine (=L)" (Song of Songs 6:3). Elul is the month in which most of these prophecies are read.

In other words, in Elul we draw close, as it were, to the Almighty, and He to us, like two "lovers." Therefore, the final prophetic portion of the seven weeks reads, "I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God . . . as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels" (Isaiah 61:10). This implies that the goal of the seven weeks of consolation is for God to rejoice with us like a groom with his bride.

Thus, the seven weeks are like the "seven clean days" which a Jewish woman must observe before she can resume normal marital relations, and Rosh HaShanah is like the wedding day. This parallels the seven weeks which are counted before the Giving of the Torah on the Shavuot festival, for the Holy Ari likens this period to seven days of purification which lead up to a bonding with the Almighty on the day of the giving of the Torah, which itself is likened to a betrothal.

The difference is that with the first set of tablets the main initiative came from the Almighty who called us to receive to Torah, and, in a sense, even forced us to receive it (according to the Midrash, God lifted Mount Sinai up over the Jewish people and warned that if they did not receive Torah this would be their grave). With the second set of tablets the main initiative came from Israel who repented and desired God.

From here evolved the custom of the young women of Jerusalem going out and dancing in circles on the fifteenth of Av and on the Day of Atonement, saying "Young man, lift up your eyes and see what you choose for yourself." The initiative comes from the young women who wished to find men who would choose them.

It is certainly not easy to understand how God's love for us continues to endure even after the destruction of the Temple and the exile of His people. It is difficult to accept the fact that we were doubly stricken, as it says, "She was doubly stricken in all of her sins." Therefore, as we shall see, Israel did not accept the consolations of the Prophets until God Himself came and comforted them.

"Let us go together and comfort her"
The Midrash teaches (Yalkut Shimoni, Isaiah 247: 443):
God said to Abraham, "Go, comfort Jerusalem; perhaps she will accept your consolations."
Abraham went to Jerusalem and said to her, "Receive my consolations."
She said to him, "How can I receive your consolations, for you made me like a mountain, as it says, 'On the Mount of the Lord it shall be seen' (Genesis 22:14)."
Isaac came and said, "Receive my consolations."
She said to him, "How can I receive your consolations, for Esau the wicked emanated from you, and he made me into a field and his offspring burned me with fire."
Jacob came and said, "Receive my consolations."
She said to him, "How can I receive your consolations, for you rendered me as if nonexistent, [when you said] 'This is none other than the house of God' (Genesis 28:17)."

Moses came and said, "Receive my consolations."
She said to him, "How can I receive your consolations, for regarding me you wrote curses and terrible decrees, as it is written, 'They shall be wasted with hunger, and devoured with burning heat' (Deuteronomy 32:24)."

At once, all of them went before the Almighty, saying, "Master of the Universe, she refuses to accept our consolation, as it is written, 'O you afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted' (Isaiah 54:11)."
The Almighty said, "Let us go together and comfort her."

From the above, it appears that Jerusalem will not be comforted by the promises of the Prophets because she is actually living the promises of punishment. Promises of future comfort are not able to give her peace of mind, for God does not personally show His love for her. Only when God Himself turns to her in words of consolation does God become convinced that He loves her even in her hour of ruin and disgrace.

In the continuation of the Midrash, we find that the Almighty apologizes, as it were, for having disparaged Jerusalem, i.e., the nation of Israel:
"I am the only one fitting to go, for I transgressed that which is written, 'You shall do no work with the firstborn of your bulls' (Deuteronomy 15:19). And while I called Israel "My firstborn child," I told them to bring their necks under the yoke of the king of Babylon.

"I have written in My Torah, 'Do not hate your brother in your heart,' yet I have hated her, therefore it is also My responsibility to appease her.

"I have written in My Torah, 'You shall not deliver to his master the slave [who has escaped from his master to you]' (ibid. 23:16), yet I delivered them to idolaters, as It is written, 'Unless their Rock had sold them, and the Lord had shut them up' (ibid. 32:30).

"I wrote in My Torah, 'You shall not consume to the corners of your field' (ibid. 19:9), but I consumed, as it is written, 'The Lord has accomplished (lit., consumed) his fury' (Lamentations 4:11).

"I have written in my Torah, 'He who kindled the fire shall surely make restitution' (Exodus 22:5), but I kindled her with fire, as it is written, 'From above has he sent fire into my bones' (Lamentations 1:13), and I will rebuild her in the future, as it is written, 'And I, says the Lord, will be to her a surrounding wall of fire' (Zachariah 2:9)."

Immediately God goes to her and says, "My daughter, why all of this anger?" [And she answers,] Master of the Universe,] Am I not justified in being angered? You have exiled me amongst the nations and cursed me with terrible curses and I have been flogged to the point where my face looks like the side of a pot, yet still have I sanctified Your great name."

The Almighty says to her, "Corresponding to the merit for what you have done, you have debts to pay, for you transgressed that which is written in the Torah, 'Honor your father and your mother,' for of you it is written, 'Among you, they have made light of father and mother' (Ezekiel 22:7).

"It is written, 'Whoever sheds man’s blood [by man shall his blood be shed]' (Genesis 9:6), but of you it is written, 'In you are men who carry tales to shed blood' (Ezekiel 22:9).

"It is written, 'You shall not kill, nor shall you commit adultery' (Deuteronomy 5:17), but of you it is written, 'There is swearing, and lying, and killing, and stealing, and committing adultery' (Hosea 4:2)."

She said before Him, "Master of the Universe, since I have been exiled amongst the nations, it is only fair that I not keep the Sabbath and observe your commandments!"

He said to her, "My daughter, it has come time for you to be redeemed."

What is the meaning of the things which God says here? The Almighty has punished Israel unfairly, as it were. "Shall the Judge of the entire world not do justice?" Rather, when Israel repents and uproots its sin, God too "repents," for having punished them. Were it not for the fact that the Sages themselves write these words, we would not dare to say there there could possibly be something resembling repentance for God.

At the conclusion of this dialog, Israel says, "Master of the Universe, since I have been exiled amongst the nations, it is only fair that I not keep the Sabbath and observe your commandments!" It appears that what she means by this is that it is difficult to fulfill the commandments in exile, either because of the disturbing decrees, or because in the exile the commandments are like tokens of remembrance, as it is written "Set up tokens for yourself" (Jeremiah 31:20). They are not on the same level as commandments performed in the land of Israel. Therefore, God responds, "My daughter, it has come time for you to be redeemed."

The King Has Returned
It is now possible to interpret the sequence of prophetic portions of consolation thus: God sends comforters to console His people Israel, but Zion refuses to be comforted by them, saying, "But Zion says, The Lord has forsaken me, and my Lord has forgotten me" (Isaiah 49:14). God understands that she will not be comforted, as it is written, "O you afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted" (Isaiah 54:11), and therefore goes Himself to comfort her: "I, I myself, am he who comforts you" (ibid. 51:12). And just how does He comfort her? "Sing, O barren, you who did not bear" (Isaiah 54:1). Yet neither does this satisfy Zion. She will not be appeased by numerous children, for she desires spiritual goods, God's return to Zion and a closeness to Him, as related by the Sages (Psikta DeRav Kehana 22):

They are like a queen whose husband the king and whose sons and sons-in-law went abroad. When they come and tell her, "Your sons have returned," she replies, "What is that to me? Let my daughters-in-law rejoice." When her sons-in-law return and they tell her, "Your sons-in-law are here," she replies, "What is that to me? Let my daughters rejoice." But when they say to her "The king your husband has returned," she says, "This is a real pleasure, joy on joy."
So in the time to come the prophets will come and say to Jerusalem, "Thy sons come from far" (Isaiah 50:4), and she will reply, "Let Mount Zion rejoice" (Psalms 48:12). When they say, "And thy daughters are borne on the side" (Isaiah 50:4), she will say, "let the daughters of Judah be glad" (Psalms 48:12). But when they will say to her, "Behold, thy king cometh unto thee, [he is triumphant, and victorious]" (Zech. 9:9), she will say, "This is a real joy," as it is written, "I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God" (Isa. 21, 10).

Therefore, God says to her, "Arise My light, for your light has come" (Isaiah 6:1). Here, the intention is the spiritual light of Jerusalem which is known as "the light of the world," and this relates to the bond between the congregation of Israel and the Almighty. The Almighty calls her "My light," and God is her light, "for your light has come." According to the Midrash, "the Almighty said to Israel, 'My children, because my light is your light, and your light is my light, let both of us go and illuminate Zion, Arise My light, for your light has come.'"

Then the ultimate joy comes, the joy of a groom for his bride: "I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels" (Isaiah 61:10).

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